Authors: Debra Webb
Husband and wife reunite in
bestselling authors Debra Webb & Regan Black's sizzling Colby Agency: Family Secrets series!
When someone tries to kill security expert Sophia Leone on a dark road, she's rescued by her husbandâa US army general she thought died a year ago. Suddenly, Frank Leone is back, very much alive, and insisting that someone is trying to kill Sophia. Convicted of treason before his supposed death, Frank claims a shadow group is behind everything. Now Sophia must put her life in the hands of the handsome desperado she married for better or worse thirty years agoâ¦the man she never stopped loving.
“You're going to tell me the whole story,” Sophia said.
He'd never been a fan of her using his general's tone, but if any situation required it, this was the one.
“I am,” Frank replied, with both hands on the steering wheel once more. “You're not going to like it.”
“I already don't like it, Frank.”
“The man following you was one of the top snipers in the Afghanistan military. One word from his boss and your life is over.”
She sucked in a breath. “Why?” Who would make her a target?
“That's one detail. I swear to you, as soon as I'm sure we're out of harm's way, I'll tell you everything.”
“Harm's way or not, you'll tell me everything tonight.” He wasn't the only one who could issue orders.
With a short nod, he rolled his broad shoulders.
She remembered the feel of those shoulders under her hands after a tough day at work when she'd help him work out the kinksâ¦or late at night in the heat of passion.
Oh, how she wanted to trust him, to be sure she could trust him.
It scared her, more than being run off the road, just how much she wanted to believe in Frank Leone again.
Debra Webb &
, born in Alabama, wrote her first story at age nine and her first romance at thirteen. It wasn't until she spent three years working for the military behind the Iron Curtainâand a five-year stint with NASAâthat she realized her true calling. Since then the
bestselling author has penned more than one hundred novels, including her internationally bestselling Colby Agency series.
bestselling author, writes award-winning, action-packed novels featuring kick-butt heroines and the sexy heroes who fall in love with them. Raised in the Midwest and California, she and her family, along with their adopted greyhound, two arrogant cats and a quirky finch, reside in the South Carolina Lowcountry, where the rich blend of legend, romance and history fuels her imagination.
Books by Debra Webb and Regan Black
Colby Agency: Family Secrets
Heavy Artillery Husband
The Specialists: Heroes Next Door
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CAST OF CHARACTERS
Former military analyst and widow of brigadier general Frank Leone, she is the founder of Leo Solutions, a security company she and her husband dreamed of establishing after he retired.
Nearing the end of his army career, he accepted an undercover assignment that made progress until it spiraled out of control. Now presumed dead, Frank is trying to protect his wife and daughter from a criminal group out for vengeance.
A retired army general and friend of the Leones, he seized an opportunity few men would have the audacity to pursue. Now he sits at the pinnacle of a highly skilled and highly profitable operation.
The semiretired head of the Colby Agency. She and her husband, Lucas Camp, can't seem to stay out of the business of investigations.
Monday, April 18, 6:45 p.m.
Sophia Leone sat back as the waiter delivered wide shallow bowls filled with the best pasta in the Windy City. From the first warm embrace upon her arrival, her friend Victoria Colby-Camp and her husband, Lucas Camp, had carefully kept the conversation on lighthearted topics.
It couldn't stay that way. All three of them recognized there were serious matters to address. As the founder of the Colby Agency, Victoria never let her mind stray too far from business, especially not when she sensed a friend in trouble.
Was she in trouble?
Sophia couldn't decide. She was still processing everything that had happened over the past few days.
She resisted the urge to run her fingers over the fading goose egg on her scalp. Hidden by her hair just above her ear, it was the only remnant of the shocking fight in her kitchen. Though it had been a terrible ordeal, the real culprit was in custody and the people who mattered most were safe. Coming to Chicago gave her a chance to escape and some space to decide how she wanted to move forward.
While this visit to Chicago needed to shift into business, tonight was for pleasure. She wanted time to relax and catch up with her friends. She hadn't realized just how pervasive that undercurrent of tension in her life had been during the months when her daughter, Frankie, refused to speak with her. Now it was marvelous to share how happily Frankie and her fiancÃ©, Aidan, a former Colby Agency investigator, were coming along with their wedding plans. With countless questions and decisions remaining, the two most important details were finalized. They'd set a date for September and Aidan's family would be in attendance.
“I'm still not sure we've forgiven you for stealing Aidan away,” Lucas teased when the waiter walked away. “Victoria had to get creative when she recruited him.”
“He was ready to try this side of the pond.” Victoria shot her husband an amused glance. “I might've implied that when the river turned green on St. Patrick's Day, Chicago would feel like Ireland.”
Watching the banter between the pair made Sophia's heart twist painfully. It reminded her so much of the wonderful days when she'd felt that camaraderie and partnership with her own husband. Brigadier General Franklin Leone had been dead almost a year now and she still couldn't quite accept it.
She took a bite of her meal and worked hard to enjoy the fresh flavors of tender pasta and crisp vegetables. She would not let a wave of loneliness ruin the evening. Doing her best to keep up her end of the conversation, she shared more about her future son-in-law. “Aidan is mesmerized with the Seattle area. He hasn't seen much beyond the sights downtown, but when they dropped me at the airport this morning, he and Frankie were planning a visit to Tillicum Village this weekend. It's a traditional native tribal experience.”
“I remember making that trip ages ago,” Lucas said. “They'll have a fantastic time.”
“You know, I think he might be considering it for the rehearsal dinner.” Sophia smiled with anticipation. “It would be quite memorable if it works out.”
Victoria's eyes sparkled. “Their wedding will be memorable, regardless. I know we're both looking forward to attending.”
“And Frankie can't wait to have you both join us,” Sophia replied. With so much to celebrate, it was silly of her to dwell on who
be there. She took another bite of her pasta, washed it down with a sip of excellent wine and struggled again to forgive her husband for missing this incredible milestone in their daughter's life.
Victoria leaned forward and lowered her voice. “If everything is perfect and wonderful, why are you only poking at your dinner?”
Sophia lifted her gaze and met the concern shining in her friend's eyes. Victoria was as sharp as any of the private investigators she kept on her staff. While all three of them knew this dinner was meant to be comforting, neither she nor Victoria had ever been good at beating around the proverbial bush.
Sophia smiled. “I just can't say thank you enough.” Without Victoria, she and her daughter might never have been reconciled.
Victoria set her fork aside and reached for her glass of wine. “You've said thank you more than enough alreadyânone of which was necessary. I'm happy for you and Frankie, even if it cost me a top investigator.”
Why had Sophia come all this way if she wasn't going to be honest about her other concerns? This wasn't something to discuss over a phone or a video chat later. She wanted to see their immediate reactions when she asked her questions. Sophia tried to muster some courage. Shy and uncertain weren't typical for her. She was accustomed to boldly heading exactly where she needed to go in a conversation or in business.
“Aidan is remarkable,” Sophia said with a tight smile. “You should see them together.” Here she went again, dancing around the more pertinent issue.
Get to the point!
“We'll see them at the wedding.” Victoria's smile didn't quite ease the curiosity in her eyes. “But I'm sure that's not why you've come all this way, Sophia.”
“Should I excuse myself?” Lucas asked.
“Of course not,” Sophia replied immediately. Whatever she told Victoria would find its way to Lucas anyway. She didn't begrudge them that. It had been the same in her own marriage. Until those last two years anyway, when his overseas operations put more than geography obstacles between her and her husband.
Why couldn't she just get the words out? It wasn't as if Victoria wouldn't understand her predicament. By now her friend had probably guessed why she'd made the trip. “You know I still have questions about Frank.”
Both Lucas and Victoria nodded, though neither offered any comment.
Her husband had been found guilty of treason during his last deployment. Before he could be transferred to prison, he'd killed himself, leaving Frankie and Sophia to deal with the fallout. When she closed her eyes at night, the memory of watching that closed-circuit monitor fill with the image of his pale, lifeless face haunted her. Sophia suspected he had carried terrible secrets to his grave. Secrets that might not even have answers.
Though Frankie believed her father was innocent of the treason charge and was certain he'd been murdered, there had never been a scrap of evidence to support her theory. It was only one facet of the complex situation that had wedged them apart.
While Sophia had accepted she'd always be curious about her husband's last days, it was her internal battle that had brought her to Chicago. During her career as a military analyst, she'd taken information and made concise assessments. Now she wondered if her ability to read people and situations had failed her.
“Not just Frank.” Sophia shook her head. “It's Paul, too.” In the wake of Frank's suicide, she'd needed to act quickly to protect her future and Frankie's, as well. Paul Sterling, an old friend, had helped her launch Leo Solutions, the security company she and her husband had envisioned to keep them busy after his retirement. Mere days ago she'd found out Paul had betrayed her in favor of his own interests.
How had she allowed two men to fool her so completely?
“Every way I look at what's happened,” Sophia went on, “the common denominator is my judgment or lack thereof.” She picked up her fork, stabbing a stem of roasted asparagus and dragging it through the light cream sauce. “Forget I said anything.” She glanced from Victoria to Lucas. “I don't really know what I need, or even what I want to do next. Please, let's talk about something else.”
“All right,” Victoria said. “Have you found your dress for the wedding?”
“I have something in mind.” Sophia felt her smile bloom. It happened whenever she toyed with ideas for the upcoming wedding. While the final choices would be up to Frankie and Aidan, she loved window-shopping and perusing magazines and online sites for creative ideas to present to the bride and groom. “It's all happened so quickly, I've only been shopping online so far. Frankie hasn't had any time to decide on colors or venues, though she made me promise not to wear something that fades into the decor. I thought I might shop a bit while I'm here.”
“We should go together,” Victoria said with an eager smile. “The mother of the bride should dazzle, but not quite as much as the bride herself. Has Frankie given any thought to her dress?”
“Not particularly. You know she wasn't the type of little girl who played wedding day dress up like so many of her friends.” Sophia curled her fingers around the hemmed edge of the napkin in her lap, assaulted by memories of happier times. “I don't want to jinx it, but I'm hoping she'll choose to have my wedding gown altered and restyled to make it hers.”
“Oh, that would be beautiful.” Victoria blinked rapidly. “You're all right with the idea?”
“I suggested it.” Sophia forgot to take the bite of pasta she'd gathered onto her fork. “She loves the traditional, understated lines of my wedding dress and it's a way for her to include her father.” Sophia felt bittersweet tears at the back of her throat. She would not cry another tear for Frank or his memory. “She wants to honor the start of our family as she starts her own.”
“Sounds as though your daughter's a thoughtful and compassionate young woman,” Lucas said.
Sophia could have hugged him. It was the perfect assessment and a lovely way to put it. “Thank you. I think so, too.”
Her gaze dropped to her plate as her mind drifted back to that idyllic time when the future was a bright, hope-filled horizon. The Leone family had faced the world together as a team. She'd weathered the highs and lows with her husband during his military career. Just when they were on the cusp of the next stageâready to enjoy their empty nest and launch a new ventureâlife had fallen to pieces. Countless times over the past year, she'd fought off the urge to scream and wave her fist at that deceptive horizon.
Life is not always fair, Sophia.
“Frankie still believes he was innocent, doesn't she?” Lucas asked.
Sophia nodded, her heart heavy. “Her faith in him is relentless and even stronger now since Paul revealed his true colors.”
“She's Frank's daughter through and through,” Victoria observed. “I saw it the moment she walked into my office. She has his stride, his chin and all of his tenacity.”
“Among other things,” Sophia admitted. There were moments, such as this one, when the sadness at the scope of her loss flattened her. She tossed her napkin over the remainder of her dinner and swallowed back another wave of unanswerable questions. Her fingers locked in her lap and she squeezed until her knuckles protested.
Victoria leaned forward, her voice low. “Keeping your worries bottled up isn't helping you move forward.”
“If you'd rather discuss what's troubling you elsewhere, we can wrap this up,” Lucas offered.
“That's kind of you both, but not necessary. I'm overthinking things.” Sophia tried to believe that explanation as she unclenched her hands, automatically rubbing the place where her wedding rings had been. She'd taken them off the day after the funeral, when any reminder of her ties to her disgraced husband would impede the launch of Leo Solutions. As a family, they'd been so close. As a couple, they'd focused their plans on giving Frankie a solid foundation. How had it suddenly crumbled?
“Frankie wasn't the only one to dig into Frank's case. I've been discreet,” Sophia confessed. “I haven't found anything helpful or conclusive yet. It would be nice to confirm my suspicions about his guilt or innocence. Frankie views him with a daughter's hero worship. I won't take that away from her.”
“Of course not,” Victoria agreed.
“After the things Paul said and did last week, it made me wonder about Frank all over again.” Sophia recognized that Victoria knew more than her fair share about pain and betrayal. She understood how betrayal often led a person to ignore some details and put more weight on other points, which blurred the facts into something closer to fiction. “Maybe Frankie's right and we should try harder to clear her dad's name.”
“Say the word and I'll have one of our investigators start digging into it.”
Sophia appreciated Victoria's offer. It came as no surprise, and professional assistance was one more reason to be here in person. She should say yes and let Victoria handle it while she went back to help Frankie with wedding plans. Would the answers change anything? Her husband was dead, a convicted traitorâit wasn't a simple matter at all. The problem was still too sensitive, too fresh even a year after the verdict.
Now that the offer was on the table, she wasn't sure an investigation was the right way to go. “Maybe we should investigate.” As the words left her mouth, everything felt all wrong. “Or maybe not.” Exasperated with herself, she tried to laugh. “What do I know?”
Her throat tight with frustration, she raised her glass and finished off her wine. Her hotel was just down the street and she didn't have to worry about driving. The bold flavors of the wine melted on her tongue but didn't give her any insight or steady her nerves. Didn't she
the answers? Wouldn't that help her sleep at night?
Assuming Victoria's investigators could find the truth, knowing the facts wouldn't actually change anything. Frankie would still be short one outstanding father. As Sophia had reviewed Frank's last few years, even amid all the chaos and inevitable suspicion, she'd never doubted his love or devotion to their daughter.
“Why don't we launch the investigation? You can call it off at any time,” Lucas said.
No, it was better not to start at all. “Perhaps,” Sophia replied at last, “his secrets, good or bad, are better left buried.”
“Even if he was murdered?”